In an effort to reduce whitetail deer and turkey numbers, the Mica Peak Conservation area will be open to a limited number of hunters this fall.
The 1,795-acre conservation area, owned by Spokane County, will be available to hunters through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Hunting by Reservation Program. The program limits the number of hunters and days.
“That hunting by reservation program seemed like the best option for us and the public,” Spokane County parks planner Paul Knowles said. “We’re basically able to control when people are up there and how many.”
Turkey populations have exploded in the area since the county started buying the land in 2013, with wildlife nuisance calls and complaints increasing somewhat. Deer populations haven’t grown as much, said Michael Atamian, WDFW’s Spokane district wildlife biologist.
“The only good tool we have to try and tap the brakes on that population is our hunter harvest,” he said.
Knowles presented the Spokane County Commissioners with the proposal at Tuesday’s commissioner meeting. The commissioners gave the county “verbal approval to move ahead,” Knowles said. The decision does not require a formal resolution. County and WDFW staff will review the effectiveness of the program next year and decide whether to continue.
Between Oct. 12 and Dec. 15, hunting will be allowed Monday through Thursday. Specific hunts will be posted on the WDFW website (see sidebar).
Knowles said the hunts coincide with the area’s slowest time of the year.
“That hunting window basically from mid-October through December happens to coincide with our slowest months of the year for recreational use,” he said. “It’s basically a shoulder season.”
While there have been some wildlife complaints, the decision is mostly a proactive move, Atamian said. Already, deer and turkeys congregate in the conservation area knowing that it’s a safe haven.
“When it’s a life-or-death matter, you figure that out pretty quickly,” he said.
A similar thing happened at the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, Atamian said. Prior to 2010, no hunting was allowed on the refuge. The elk population grew rapidly, with the large ungulates damaging the aspen groves on the refuge, as well as destroying nearby crops.
In 2010, WDFW and Turnbull opened the refuge up to a limited hunt. Since then, complaints have gone down, the aspen groves are healthier and elk numbers are at a more sustainable level.
“The decision is more about avoiding going down the Turnbull line,” Atamian said. “The deer concentrations up there and the turkey concentrations aren’t huge. But we want to keep it from becoming that situation.”
The county and WDFW will post signs outlining when the special hunt is occurring and urging hikers to wear hunter orange. The cost of installing the sign, including labor, is estimated at $773.85 according to a briefing presented to commissioners on Tuesday.
In making the decision to open up the area, Knowles said they considered the biological need to reduce deer and turkey numbers, and that the area has long been associated with hunting. The area is surrounded by lands open to hunting, including Washington State Department of Natural Resources and Inland Empire Paper land.
“It’s one of the few, if only, trailheads that I’ve been to where you regularly see hunters,” Knowles said. “That area has been historically popular for hunting.”
The proposal received widespread support in a Spokane County parks community advisory survey. More than 70% of respondents agreed that opening the area to limited hunting was a good idea.
Knowles hopes the by putting “extra eyes and ears out there,” illegal motorized use of the area will decrease. Hunters will not be allowed to use any motorized vehicles.
Considering that the area is surrounded by forestland and farms, Atamian believes it will be a popular hunt.
“That is really good whitetail habitat,” he said. “It produces a lot of whitetail.”
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